THE BLOG
07/15/2015 05:22 pm ET Updated Jul 14, 2016

The Agreement With Iran: How Solid?

Years ago when Japan was an economic powerhouse and Americans were negotiating with Japan, a certain confusion occurred. The Americans would feel they had an agreement only to find out there was no agreement.

Where did the confusion come from?

The word "Yes" in Japanese is "Hai," but it does not mean the same thing as "yes" in English.

In English "yes" means "done deal, there is no need to talk more. We have come to a final agreement." In Japanese, "Hai," their "yes," means: "I did not say no," "we can continue talking." It is more like a "maybe," or a "yes" said with an upward intonation sound "yeeess..." not a "YES!!"

This confusion has caused many American businessmen a lot of headache. They believed there was an oral agreement and they could proceed to write the contract when in reality there was no agreement.

Is something similar happening now with Iran?

I used to live in Los Angeles where there is a large Iranian expatriate community. Real estate dealers would tell me that it was very difficult to negotiate with Iranians in their experience. They'd start to negotiate after the contract is signed.

How can that be?

Well, the signed contract only tells them what you would agree to. Now they'd start to negotiate further by giving interpretations to what was agreed.

Real estate brokers used to tell me that negotiating with Iranians was the toughest negotiation for them, because they never knew what the Iranians were really agreeing to.

This is apparently part of the Iranian culture. A thousand years of Middle Eastern bazaar trade practices where a price of an item is not what is being demanded nor one that is being offered. It is all negotiated and then renegotiated over and over again.

If you go to a Turkish bazaar, never agree to pay what the seller is asking. If you do, you would practically offend him.

How can that be? Did you not agree without discussion to pay whatever he asked?

Well, they expected to negotiate and that you will offer to pay less and you two will go back and forth. You will show how dismayed you are at the price requested and walk away and he will chase you, and you will come back etc., etc. It is a big show. Eventually, you come to an agreement on the price, which is usually around fifty percent of what he initially asked for, and then he would offer you something else to add to what you bought. If you agree he would further reduce the price, etc...

If you agree to whatever he asked without negotiating and making the show, he feels like an idiot. He should have asked more if you are so easygoing.

I remember going to bazaars with my American friends. They would feel embarrassed by my behavior of negotiating back and forth, offering to pay twenty percent of what the seller asked for. They found my behavior demeaning to the poor salesmen. That I was taking advantage of him. They wanted me to be fair and pay whatever asked.

Ah. Those cultural differences.

The American culture is based on fairness. In the Middle East, Yankees are considered naïve, pushovers, because they seek fairness and can be manipulated with little effort.

Do we really have an agreement with Iran, or is the real problem going to be now the interpretation of what was agreed to and enforcing it?

I read in the newspapers that the Iranian government does not trust the USA.

Should the USA trust Iran?

The agreement says that if Iran violates the agreement, sanctions will be reimposed. Looks good -- on paper. But by the time violations are verified and confirmed, and the Western powers come to an agreement to react to the violation and impose new sanctions, the period without the sanctions will make Iran stronger than it is now. So what did we earn? What benefits did we earn short of hope that they will honor the agreement?

In the Sephardic tradition there is an expression which when loosely translated means "those that live expecting die sitting on the toilet."

I wonder?